In "An Ounce of Cure" by Alice Munro, how does setting contribute to the narrator’s grievances?

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mdelmuro | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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The town and the era in which "An Ounce of Cure" occurs contributes to the narrator's grievances in that she's never really able to forget two youthful mistakes, which were all centered around a short-lived romantic relationship.

The story takes place in a small town where many of the citizens do not like alcohol. The narrator, who is telling this story years later, describes how, after a short relationship ends, she makes two major mistakes when she was just a teenager:

  1. She attempts to kill herself by taking six asprin
  2. She gets drunk while babysitting

This is where the setting becomes really important to the story. This town is small, gossipy and anti-alcohol. These factors contribute to the inability of people to forget her mistakes, which follow her through marriage and the birth of her children.

The narrator makes it clear the town is small when she describes why the Berrymens traveled to Baileyville, a "much bigger, livelier town about 20 miles away."

In addition, the fact that Mr. Berrymen seems frightened that the narrator will tell about where she found the alcohol suggests a level of fear about gossip leading to public shunning.

In fact, this is exactly what the narrator experiences after this event. Within the next week, the narrator says, "it was all over town and school that I had tried to commit suicide over Martin Collinwood" and that "the Berrymans had come home on Saturday night to find me drunk, staggering, and wearing nothing but my slip, in a room with three boys..."

The town never forgot these events, at least not in the eyes of the narrator, who, at the end of the story sees Martin Collinwood, the object of her teenage desire, many years later. At this point, the narrator is married and has kids, but she says:

"And I saw him looking over at me with an expression as close to a reminiscent smile as the occasion would permit, and I knew that he had been surprised by a memory either of my devotion or of my little buried catastrophe."

In this small, anti-alcohol, gossipy town, the narrator's grievances can never come to an end because she believes that, whether it's true or not, everyone remembers what she did when she was a teenage girl.

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